Save money wih generics

Today, more than ever, consumers can opt for generic equivalents of brand-name medications at substantial cost savings.

According to the December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, generic versions of brand-name prescription drugs can cost 30 percent to 90 percent less.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a record number of generic drug applications, up more than 30 percent from 2006.

Generics might look different from the brand-name drug because they can have different fillers or coloring agents. But the active ingredients are closely regulated by the FDA and must be within a small percentage of the brand-name medication.

For a brand-name drug to become available as a generic can take decades. An initial patent life is 20 years, and patents can be extended for variations on the medication. When the patent expires, the FDA frequently grants one company six months of exclusive rights to produce the generic drug. Usually, the price drops slightly. But if the generic is widely used, other companies will manufacture the drug, and usually the price drops substantially.

Here are some brand-name drugs available as generic since 2006:

  • Altace (ramipril) for blood pressure and heart failure
  • Ambien (zolpidem), a sleep aid
  • Depakote (divalproex) for seizures, migraines and bipolar disorder
  • Fosamax (alendronate) for osteoporosis
  • Requip (ropinirole) for restless legs syndrome
  • Toprol-XL (metoprolol succinate) for blood pressure, heart failure and angina
  • Zyrtec-D (cetirizine/pseudoephedrine) for allergies. Now available over-the-counter.

Many more brand-name medications are expected to be available in generic forms in the next two years. Among those to watch are the migraine medication Imitrex (sumatriptan), the glaucoma drug Cosopt (timolol/dorzolamide), the anti-seizure drug Topamax (topiramate), and the herpes anti-viral drug Valtrex (valacyclovir).

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about less-expensive medication options. Not all brand-name medications have generic equivalents, but always inquire.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or visit www.HealthLetter.MayoClinic.com

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